Former COO of health firm claims discrimination in firing

A former executive at an Indianapolis-based chain of health clinics says he was fired because of his age, race and national origin, and in retaliation because he stood up for one of his female managers.

Jose M. Perez, 54, who is of Cuban descent, worked at Indiana Health Centers Inc. for 26 years, where he served as chief operating officer. The company runs nine clinics, mostly for patients with low incomes or without insurance.

In a lawsuit filed Jan. 16 in U.S. District Court in Indianapolis, Perez claims he was fired in June after alerting his boss, CEO Elvin Plank, that one of his female managers was not being paid the same amount as her male counterparts, in possible violation of federal law. He said his conversation about his female manager’s wages was protected under the federal Civil Rights Act, which prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin and religion.

A month later, the lawsuit said, Plank fired Perez on the grounds that his work performance failed to meet expectations. The lawsuit said Perez was given high work performance ratings for the previous three years.

Perez claims in the suit he was replaced by a younger, less experienced, white woman. The company “has accorded more favorable treatment to employees who are not Hispanic/of Cuban origin, are younger, and who have not engaged in protected conduct” under federal law, the lawsuit said.

Perez had been with the company since 1990. In addition to serving as chief operating officer, he served for about a year as interim CEO, but lost his bid to become permanent CEO after the company hired Plank for the position. The company declined to comment on Perez’s lawsuit.

Perez is asking the court to reinstate him and pay back wages and benefits, along with unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

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